California schools should delay their start times now

by Joy Parker, staff writer

Despite getting up early, exercising, and abstaining from caffeine and excess screen time, I have too often had the experience of staying up late because I just don’t feel tired. Worse yet, the next morning I wake up with a throbbing head and stinging eyes. 

I know that I am not alone in this unpleasant sleep schedule, and California lawmakers know it too. That’s why in 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 328 into effect. This requires our state’s high schools’ first period to start at 8:30 a.m. or later by fall of 2022. Although the law does not mandate later high school start times for another two years, we should change the school start time to 9:00 a.m. as soon as we return to campus so that we can take advantage of sleep’s power to help us feel better and be more productive.    

We need this change because if we were back at in-person school, the current 8:00 a.m. start time disrupts our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s 24-hour natural cycle, and it controls when you feel hungry, sleepy, and ready to wake up. In contrast to adults, teens’ circadian rhythm does not align with the current school schedule. Teens are more comfortable going to sleep around 11:00 p.m. and waking up at 8:00 or 8:30 a.m., giving them nine to nine-and-a-half hours of uninterrupted rest, according to UCLA Health. The start time disrupts the alignment between circadian rhythm and our sleep schedule, and Society for Neuroscience went so far as to compare the state of sleep deprivation to the feeling of jet lag.

In addition to causing fatigue, bad sleep degrades our physical health. For example, bad sleep can worsen physical challenges like unnecessary weight gain.  Without sleep, your body can’t regulate hormones like ghrelin and leptin, which control feeling hungry and feeling full, says Dr. Michal J. Breus PhD, a Clinical Psychologist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. Improper regulation can cause impulsive and excessive eating, which decreases your physical health, and it can endanger your safety. It prevents the brain’s ability to take in what you see, process it, and turn it into cohesive thoughts, effectively causing slow reaction times, says Breus. This can increase the risk of tripping, falling, or being involved in a car accident. 

Lack of sleep can also negatively impact mood. While we sleep, our body enters a sleep stage called REM, or “rapid eye movement”, during which our brains process emotional information. Consequently, with bad sleep, it becomes difficult to remember positive emotional experiences, inciting mental health issues such as depression or suicidal thoughts, says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, a physiatrist from the Sleep Foundation. Sleep deprivation also prevents efficient studying, which makes our education less impactful. Without good sleep, our brain can’t effectively connect old neural pathways or create new ones, says the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This creates issues with memory and cognitive functions weakening the ability to learn.

We can avoid the consequences of sleep deprivation and improve our well-being by simply moving the school start time to 9:00 a.m. With distance learning starting at 8:30, we are already half-way there. Students have power to make this change by speaking up. Contact the Santa Rosa City School’s superintendent Diann Kitamura or school board president Laurie Fong and ask to change to a 9:00 a.m. start time as soon as we return to school. 

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